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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2002 / 8 Teves, 5763

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Willie Horton's legacy

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | When a Massachusetts prison mistakenly gave a weekend pass to convicted murderer Willie Horton, it released a chain of events that reverberate through America today.

The first result was the brutal 1987 torture/rape of a Maryland woman in front of her hog-tied fiance.

The second result was political. Then-Sen. Al Gore, and later an independent campaign supportive of then-Vice President George Bush, ran TV spots on Horton during the 1988 presidential election. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis lost.

American politics then embraced two dangerous myths -- one, that the episode was racial, because the TV spots showed Horton's black face; and two, that any politician who innocently releases the wrong convict is toast.

Hence the drop in presidential pardons from 406 under Ronald Reagan, to 77 from Bush pere and 56 in the first term of Bill Clinton -- before the fire sale of pardons as he neared his White House farewell -- and zero from George W. Bush to date.

Back to the myths. While Democrats complained that Willie Horton was about race, his story really was about crime and arrogance. Horton never should have been furloughed. He had been sentenced to life in prison, and was not eligible for parole for years -- when the furlough program was designed to facilitate inmates' re-entry into society.

If Dukakis had voiced outrage at this blunder and worked to fix it, his supporters wouldn't have had to try to dismiss the furlough issue as racist. And they never understood, it wasn't racism that hurt Dukakis, but his arrogant veto of a bill to ban furloughs for first-degree murderers, which showed a clear lack of compassion for victims.

George W. Bush, I'm glad to say, is no Michael Dukakis. He doesn't dismiss anti-crime activists as kooks. He doesn't display a cool disdain for people who believe in punishing thugs.

He's also a Republican, which means he should see the value in a tool entrusted to the executive in order, among other things, to curb excessive sentences -- that is, to curb government power when it is abused and overused.

Giving Willie Horton a weekend pass -- that's undergoverning. Federal mandatory minimum drug sentences that often place nonviolent first offenders behind bars for decades -- that's overgoverning.

Republicans are supposed to believing in governing just right. And to use the pardon power just right, you have to use it.

Yes, it was misused by Clinton, who handed out pardons to convicted Puerto Rican terrorists to help his wife win her New York Senate seat, and later to a spate of convicts who had greased their way to pardon consideration.

At this moment, there are thousands of nonviolent drug offenders serving draconian sentences. They deserved to go to prison, they just didn't deserve the length of their sentence.

There's Clarence Aaron, in prison in Atlanta, who faces a life sentence without parole for hooking up two drug dealers -- his sentence is the same that FBI agent-turned-traitor Robert Hanssen is serving.

At age 19, Chrissy Taylor was sentenced to 19 years for buying legal chemicals for her boyfriend's illegal drug operation. Nineteen years?

A Nebraska federal judge has asked Bush to commute the sentence for first- time drug offender Hamedah A. Hasan because 27 years is simply "unjust."

Dukakis made the mistake of not caring about people outraged when the system screwed up. As Margaret Love, pardon attorney for Bush pere, noted, Clinton's mistake was that he "simply did not understand or appreciate the public nature of the pardon power, or his obligation to stand accountable for its principled exercise even at the end of his term."

It's time for Bush to appreciate the power, exercise it, and show his many scoffers how the power to pardon can be done right.

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12/11/02:Only act of compassion by prez can save him
12/06/02: Food fight in tofu-land
12/04/02: Wireless not tireless
12/02/02: Nutritionally incorrect and right!?
11/27/02: The New New Al Gore
11/25/02: Shaking the foundations
11/22/02: Biting the hand that teaches you
11/08/02: Bush leads
11/06/02: Too big to vote small this month
11/04/02: In a cop killer's name
10/25/02: Off target
10/23/02: Anti-American and not proud of it!?
10/16/02: And now, PC parades
10/11/02: Sitting on the docks by the Bay
10/07/02: For Dems, the mantra ain't "Let every vote count" any longer
09/27/02: Profile in fence-sitting
09/25/02: Achtung, anti-American
09/24/02: Why don't they fear us?
09/18/02: Nobel Peace Prize killer
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09/06/02: Unequal before the law
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08/30/02: Gold medal in meddling
08/28/02: The summit isn't sustainable
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08/16/02:Fraternite, liberte, envy
08/14/02: Academia's swindle
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05/24/02: The Bible and the stripper
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05/10/02: Colorblind U
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04/29/02: Get ready America, California is gettin' into the slave reparations business
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04/24/02: Oooh la la, Le Pen
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04/05/02: No justice in reparations
04/01/02: Schools, yes; fat police, no
03/25/02: The government-induced doctor shortage
03/22/02: Conservative hypocrisy on school drug testing?
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03/13/02: No exit strategy
03/11/02: Simon hits the big time
03/06/02: He got away
03/01/02: Mary, Luke, Paul, John and Noah
02/25/02: These are good days for veep
02/21/02: Dirty bill for a dirty mess
02/19/02: Score one for Greta
02/15/02: Dose of justice needed here
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02/01/02: End the coverup
01/30/02: Try this for "troubling"
01/25/02: Camp X-ray or Club Med?
01/23/02: Let's stop the deluge of porn e-mail
01/21/02: No 'Little Boy Lost'
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11/28/01 Admissions and omissions
11/26/01 Guns and abayas
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11/19/01 Guilty, a la carte
11/14/01 Interpreting the entrails of Election 2000
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11/01/01 Freedom snuffed out
10/29/01 Give war a chance
10/26/01 Airline bill needs liftoff
10/22/01 The Riordan Principle
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09/26/01: What's to understand?
09/20/01: Barbara Lee's line in the sand
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09/11/01: You can't clone ethics
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07/13/01: The catalog has no clothes
07/05/01: It's Bush against the planet
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06/25/01: End HMO horrors
06/21/01: Either they're dishonest or clueless
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12/28/00: Nice people think nice thoughts
12/26/00: The Clinton years: Epilogue
12/21/00: 'Tis the season to free nonviolent drug offenders 12/18/00: A golden opportunity is squandered
12/15/00: You can take the 24 years, good son
12/13/00: Court of law vs. court of public opinion
12/08/00: A salvo in the war on the war on drugs
12/06/00: Don't cry, Butterfly: Big trees make great decks
12/04/00: Florida: Don't do as Romans did
11/30/00: Special City's hotel parking ticket
11/27/00: No means yes, yes means more than yes
11/22/00: The bench, the ballot and fairness
11/20/00: Mendocino, how green is your ballot?

© 2000, Creators Syndicate